How hazardous fake baby products appear in Google search results

According to new Incopro research, up to 3 in 9 first-page search results for branded baby teethers are for websites selling harmful or counterfeit products, posing danger to young children.

As total toy sales have slumped in the wake of the demise of US retail giant Toys “R” Us, ecommerce sales have been on the rise, representing a tectonic shift in the toy landscape.

Consumers now purchase toys from a wide array of relatively unknown online retailers, instead of trusted and well-established offline stores. They also purchase from marketplaces such as Amazon which, despite being widely regarded by consumers as a trustworthy platform, is known to contain thousands of counterfeit products.

Worryingly, consumers are increasingly being exposed to counterfeit toys and baby products on search engines in the run-up to seasonal events such as Black Friday and Christmas. Poorly-constructed fakes such as baby teethers have even been found to be available on popular marketplaces, putting young children at risk of choking.

A Senate Finance Committee staff report published on November 7 calls for U.S Customs and Border Protection to be able to share more information on counterfeits with private sector firms such as ecommerce platforms, but search engines themselves have a greater role to play in fighting online counterfeiting.

The dangers of fake children’s products

Toy brands abide by stringent regulation on materials and methods of manufacturing – and adhere to stricter regulation still for baby products. All items sold must also include detailed warnings and instructions to ensure their proper use.

Counterfeiters, on the other hand, care little about child safety and produce toys in unsanitary and unregulated environments, using poor-quality or even toxic parts.

Last December, it was reported that a 4-year-old child in the US was rushed to hospital after swallowing 13 tiny magnets exposed when a counterfeit toy broke apart [1]. The internal infection that spread as a result meant the child had to have parts of their colon and intestines removed, leaving them permanently scarred.

News publications initially identified the toy as ‘Magformers’, a magnetic construction set sold by a US firm. According to Inc.com, it was only after further investigation that it was revealed the product was a counterfeit produced by a Chinese company and, disturbingly, was widely available on marketplaces.

Notorious online marketplaces found in search results

Fake children’s products such as baby teethers are appearing at the top of search results and are readily available to consumers.

Incopro’s research reveals that searches for teethers contain a number of online marketplace listings – many of which offer fake or unsafe products. Of the first 10 results that would be displayed to a consumer, 32.5% directed to online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and ‘DHGate’. Of these, 65.4% appeared within the first five results on the page.

The chart below shows research on the volume of traffic that is directed via search engines to some of the largest global marketplaces that are gripped by counterfeiting.

More than 50% of the traffic going to the notorious marketplaces ‘Prom’ (based in Ukraine), ‘Made-in-China’ and ‘DHGate’ (both based in China) is through organic search.

Consumers finding and purchasing low-priced fakes on marketplaces outside of their home country is alarming. Many of these results are displayed when consumers search for branded toys and are designed to deceive them into thinking they are genuine.

Searches for wholesale Comotomo teethers contain counterfeits

A keyword search on Google.com for “wholesale comotomo teether” presented nine organic search results, each of which directed to a marketplace or ecommerce site. Of the nine organic search results, three were for potentially harmful products that misused the Comotomo trademark (highlighted in red).

Screenshot: A keyword search on Google.com for “wholesale comotomo teether” (Incopro, 2019). Note: The first result is a paid advertisement

The second organic result is a link to a category page on Alibaba and not a specific product, making it more challenging to get the marketplace to take action.

The presence of the brand name confuses the consumer – the page lists products that are the same or similar to the Comotomo products but are sold at a fraction of the price and are potentially harmful.

The search result also uses metadata supplied by Alibaba as seen below. The impression given to the consumer is that they will be landing on a page with 150 Comotomo products – this is not the case.

Screenshot: Metadata on Alibaba category page for ‘Comotomo Baby Suppliers’ (Incopro, 2019).

Below the Alibaba search result is an example of another type of wholesale supplier. ‘ywhgifts.com’ sells a wide variety of counterfeits, from teething toys to baby applicators and cell phone cases. This site continues to receive a huge share of traffic from organic search (76.89% over the past year) despite its status.

Brand names for these products are prominently displayed in these results, leading to confusion that these products are produced by Comotomo when several are not.

Search engines must do more

Brands can demand fake products be taken down from marketplaces, but this is of little practical use – it would not deal with the results pages hosted on these sites that are deceiving consumers.

Search engines, instead, need to get ahead of the game and provide a technology-based solution to tackle counterfeits. In doing so, they can demonstrate their willingness to proactively engage in wider anti-counterfeiting efforts alongside the government and ecommerce platforms and protect children from serious harm.

If they sit back and refuse, case law that extends liability to search engines for harmful counterfeits may come calling.

 

References:

[1] Beware: Dangerous Counterfeit Toys for Your Baby Are Being Sold on Amazon (Inc, 2019): https://www.inc.com/jeff-bercovici/amazon-dangerous-kids-products.html

 

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